What is the origin of the word ‘quiz’?

The story goes that a Dublin theatre proprietor by the name of Richard Daly made a bet that he could, within forty-eight hours, make a nonsense word known throughout the city, and that the public would supply a meaning for it. After a performance one evening, he gave his staff cards with the word 'quiz' written on them, and told them to write the word on walls around the city. The next day the strange word was the talk of the town, and within a short time it had become part of the language.

The most detailed account of this supposed exploit (in F. T. Porter's Gleanings and Reminiscences, 1875) gives its date as 1791. The word, however, was already in use by then, meaning 'an odd or eccentric person', and had been used in this sense by Fanny Burney in her diary entry for 24 June 1782.

'Quiz' was also used as a name for a kind of toy, something like a yo-yo, which was popular around 1790. The word is nevertheless hard to account for, and so is its later meaning of 'to question or interrogate'. This emerged in the mid-19th century and gave rise to the most common use of the term today, for a type of entertainment based on a test of a person's knowledge.

 

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